OHL draft pick Beau Jelsma celebrates his 16th birthday next week.
But no matter how many gifts he receives – big or small – none will likely match being chosen by the Barrie Colts on April 4 in the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.
“Pretty excited,” said Jelsma from his home in Delmer, west of Tillsonburg.
The left winger started playing his rep hockey in Tillsonburg, then switched to Brantford AAA, Elgin-Middlesex AAA, and then Hamilton AAA where his Huskies won a 2017-18 Ontario Alliance Championship. He was recruited to play major bantam with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, who were silver medalists at the Tier 1 Silver Stick tournament and a participant in the 2019 USA Hockey Youth Tier 1 14U Championships in Pittsburgh featuring the Top 16 Tier 1 American teams.
Jelsma spent most of his 2019-20 season with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres U15s, where he had 43 points in 53 games with 64 PIM.
He came nearly full circle returning to Canada in January to finish the season with the Brantford AAA U16 minor midgets, playing two regular season games and then 12 playoff games (recording 11 goals, 10 assists, 21 points, 39 PIM in the post-season on a line with Luke Bibby – drafted 250th overall by Owen Sound Attack, and Mitchell Ferras).
“I just wanted to be back in Canada,” said Jelsma. “I really wanted to go to the OHL and I missed the play of Canadian playoff hockey, so I thought it was a good idea to end (the season) in Ontario.”
Brantford, finishing sixth in a 12-team AAA league, was defeated by No. 3 Hamilton Huskies in five games in a first-round Alliance playoff series. The Huskies won back-to-back (5-3 and 6-4) to break a 1-1-1 deadlock.
“We had a really good first round, lost in five games,” said Jelsma.
In the consolation round the Brantford 99ers, which included Tillsonburg players Tyler Bouck, Hayden McLean and OHL draft pick Brandon Balazs, swept Chatham 2-0 and London Jr. Knights 2-0, before losing 3-0 to the Windsor Jr. Spitfires in late February.
“I think I played my best hockey back here in Ontario,” said Jelsma.
In total, five Brantford minor midgets were selected in the OHL priority selection. Six Junior Sabres were also selected, including Jelsma who had been interviewed before the draft by all 20 OHL teams.
“They’ve been watching me throughout the whole year, and I was actually supposed to go to the (March 26-29) OHL combine, but they cancelled it (March 16) due to the coronavirus. When it comes up to the draft, the GMs or scouts give you a call and do a phone interview with you.”
Questions ranged from his interest in playing in the OHL to what hockey skills he needs to work on… and some more unusual questions.
“Everything,” Jelsma laughed. “What your favourite colour is… a lot of weird questions.”
Jelsma had been ranked anywhere from 33-ish to 150-ish by an OHL blogger in the months leading up to the draft, but did not put much stock in pre-draft lists.
“It was going to be around there, but I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. I just play hockey. Those lists, you don’t know what’s real and what’s not.”
Where he would be drafted – and by which team – was an unknown. In total, 300 players were selected by 20 teams over 15 rounds.
“All the teams were interested, but you just don’t know going into the draft. We had an idea but not really.”
On draft day Jelsma was primed for OHL selections to begin at 9 a.m. watching the TV with his family.
“I didn’t get much sleep the night before,” he admitted. “I was pretty nervous.”
The first round went by, then the second. Teams had five minutes to make selections, but most teams needed much less.
“The third round was going by… and Barrie just picked me. Then I got the call right after. It was pretty stressful, there were some teams that were really interested and I was thinking, ‘Ok, this might be it here…’ and it didn’t happen. So I thought, ‘Okay, keep my head high, keep watching and hope for the best.”
Ultimately, it was the Barrie Colts who selected Jelsma in the third round, No. 55 overall. It was Barrie’s second pick of the third round, and its third pick of the draft. In total the Colts selected 16 players in the 2020 draft.
“I was really excited. Barrie, that’s one of the top teams and I was really hoping to go there. They’re really a class organization.
“As soon as I got picked my phone was blowing up from all the past coaches I’ve had and all my family and everything. I actually had a couple (Barrie) players call me right after I got drafted, so that was pretty nice.”
An OHL fan, Jelsma has typically attended 10-15 games a year, including Kitchener, Niagara, London and Hamilton. Now, his goal is to be on the ice rather than in the stands.
“I obviously have to keep working hard over the summer. Nothing is for sure. You’ve always got to keep working hard. Third round… it’s a great spot to be in. I don’t feel any pressure, I’m just happy that I can possibly keep playing at a higher level. This just really motivates me to make the team and just keep playing hockey.”
Training camp typically rolls around in late August, early September. The team’s rookie development camp, traditionally held in April, was cancelled this year.
“We don’t really know what they’re going to do this year. I think maybe if coronavirus clears up, as soon as that’s over we’ll go to mini camp and then main camp’s in September.
“I’ve been talking to the coaches and they seemed pretty excited so maybe that’s a good sign. Hopefully I can step up and play next year but I’ve got to get ready ‘to play with the big boys.’
“Obviously I’m going to be a little bit nervous, but I’m really excited. I’ve been waiting my whole life, since I was a little kid to play in the OHL. Through my whole life, every single hockey year, my goal was the OHL.”
He may not be a ‘heavyweight’ but Jelsma does not shy away from the physical game. His 64 penalty minutes in Buffalo, and another 39 PIM in a dozen Alliance playoff games, was noted by scouts.
“I got into two fights during the playoffs. I got some comments (from teams) saying that they liked that stuff. ‘Don’t take nothing from anybody.'”
On team social media (Twitter and Instagram), Barrie GM and Head Scout Jason Ford described Jelsma, listed at 5’10” 165 lbs, as a smooth-skating, two-way forward.
“His strong hockey sense allows him to make everyone around him better.”
Jelsma said his focus this summer will be upgrading general skills.
“I’d say just all aspects of my game,” said Jelsma, who credited his mother, Penny, a professional figure skating and power skating coach, for his strong skating.
“I’ve skated since I was like 2-3 years old with my mother. She made me into the skater that I am today.”
With the closure of arenas and training facilities in Ontario due to COVID-19, Jelsma will be working out at home this summer.
“We have a treadmill and some weights down in the basement. And I do a lot of hills – we’ve got some hills behind my house. And I do some dryland training on the grass outside. Usually I’ll get my Rollerblades out with the Green Biscuit, I’ll get the music going outside, and I play a lot of hockey outside on the driveway… work on all my skills.”
Jelsma had several people and businesses to thank following the OHL draft:
“Grandparents and all my friends and family for all their support.”
“My mom for helping me be the skater I am today.”
“My dad for driving me all over North America.”
“Athlete Farm Training, Taylor and Luke VanMoerkerke. Making sure I am in tip top shape, I’ve been working out with them since 2017.”
“Craig Rivet and Buffalo Jr. Sabres, teaching me the next level of hockey skills and discipline on and off the ice.”
“Chris Travale, who gave me confidence and brought out the best in me (Hamiltion Huskies head coach).”
“Scott Stafford and Andrew Fritsch, helping me with my hockey skills.”
“To both my billets families in Buffalo for the love and support during my time being in Buffalo.”
“Dr. Steve Stewart for his guidance and expertise.”
“I’d like to thank my agency Top Shelf, Davis Boyer and John Thornton.”